A Night at the Opera is Queen at their big, overblown best.
It opens with the vitriolic Death on Two Legs with the subtitle dedicated to?. This track is vicious and biting, both in lyric and melody and is clearly a dig at those people on the edges of the music industry who make their living out of battening on the creativity of others, without contributing anything of value. It contains the wonderful line "You're just a sewer-rat decaying in a cesspool of pride." -- Elvis Costello would have been proud of this lyric.
The pace and tone then take a complete turn, with the quirky and bouncy Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon where the vocal is redolent of the nineteen-twenties. It's a piece of pure whimsy, silly perhaps, but smile-inducing.
Roger Taylor takes over the lead vocals for his compostion I'm In Love with my Car which is a kind of seventies version of a Beach Boys ballad to the mighty automobile. Taylor was born to sing heavy metal and there is an overtone of screech as he sings "such a thrill when my radials squeal", that really conveys the excitement of a young guy driving way too fast.
Another total switch and we're into the pop-classic love song, You're my Best Friend, a non-sentimental and understated hymn of praise for enduring love, penned by John Deacon.
By this time, you've gathered that you are on a switchback ride through styles and genres, so you aren't even surprised to hear the acoustic folk of 39, a haunting ballad that takes in war, time, and love, written by Brian May, whose soft voice is perfect for the lead vocal.
The second John Deacon contribution to the album, Sweet Lady, follows. A heavy-rock love song, this is, for me, the weakest track on the album, lacking any real orginality or conviction of feeling.
Seaside Rendezvous is another eccentric Freddie Mercury composition, with a lyric that is almost W.S. Gilbert-like in its complexity, and segues to a brass-band rendition of I do like to be beside the seaside to close the track, and, in the days of vinyl, side one.
Side two opens with the incredible Prophet Song. Sinister and insinuating, it's a multi-tracked wonder of harmonic chant, vocal gymnastics and discords, and suffice it to say that though it was never a single and I haven't heard it for ten years, I can still sing every last word from memory -- it may well be the best song on the album, notwitstanding the legendary final song -- it was simply too long to be a viable commercial success.
This is followed by the simplicity and purity of Love of My Life, the best love song the band ever made, and the track that ever afterward was to become a duet between the audience and Mercury at Queen's live shows.
Good Company is Brian May's flight into eccentricity, as he again takes the lead vocal for this narrative song -- a vivacious little number about marriage, suburbia and conventionality, with deliberately missed ryhmes to throw you off kilter and make you really listen to the words, as you realise they aren't going to be what you expected after all.
Only Freddie Mercury could have written the extravaganza that is Bohemian Rhapsody, seamlessly integrating pop, rock and opera. Everyone knows this track, so it's pointless for me to describe it.
The album, like Queen's live performances, ends with guitars whining the British national anthem; something that should be awful, but somehow isn't, it just seems ... right.
A Night at the Opera is a tour de force, and was an excellent way to invest the first babysitting fee I ever earned. What a pity all the money I earned wasn't as well spent.